The small island of Nantucket, 35 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, was once the whaling capital of the world. These days, this charming spot looks like an idyllic postcard, peppered with pristine beaches, sailboat- and yacht-dotted harbors, cobblestoned streets, and shingled homes whose gardens are filled with roses and hydrangeas. Home to a mix of islanders and vacationers in the summer, Nantucket retains a laid-back, casual charm. When you're not swimming or pedaling around the island, you can stroll streets lined with sophisticated shops and galleries or linger for a while at the many restaurants and bars. Here are five reasons to visit this classic summertime haven.
Nantucket is full of unique standalone stores (the only chain you'll find is Ralph Lauren). The all-natural, green-minded boutique Follain stocks artisan-made beauty products that are made in the U.S., like Rahua and Tammy Fender. Come armed with questions, as in-the-know proprietor Tara Foley is an expert on natural beauty. Next door, Boston designer Serenella has an outpost with a range of chic beach essentials. Sip some rosé as you scour the racks for a one-of-a-kind piece at Current Vintage, a vintage dress store that conveniently doubles as a wine shop. At the ivy-covered Milly & Grace, you'll find a range of clothes, home décor, and accessories. On Main Street, Nantucket Looms features hand-woven throws (produced upstairs) and classic, durable boatneck sweaters. Finally, stop by Mitchell's Book Corner for a special list of nautical-themed reads.
Fresh Seafood Dinners and Refreshing Sips
Relax with a pre-dinner cocktail at the chic beachfront Galley. Afterwards, head to the hip waterfront oyster bar Cru for a seafood platter and a seasonal menu of sophisticated New England dishes. Local fishermen source the house-favorite fluke, prepared with browned butter and toasted hazelnuts. Fancy a nightcap? Sneak over to the new subterranean wine bar Meursault for a candlelit sip. For something sweet, pick up a box of chocolate-covered cranberries at Sweet Inspirations. Later, hop aboard the complimentary Wauwinet Lady for a 50-minute ride to lovely Wauwinet, at the northeast point of the island. The elegant mainstay Toppers is perfect for chef Kyle Zachary's fresh seafood. Don't miss the locally harvested Retsyo oysters, and the lobster-and-crab cake with roasted corn relish. An outside table affords stunning views of the purple-pink sunsets.
An ideal way to explore the island is by bicycle. Rent some wheels (try Young's Bicycle Shop) and head east to Siasconset along the pastoral nine-mile Polpis Road trail. The terrain is relatively flat, making the ride very leisurely. Park your bike, lay on the beach, have a swim, and lunch at the relaxing Beachside Bistro. The cubano sandwich with sweet potato fries and the Baja fish tacos pair well with a cold margarita. Housed in an old candle factory, the Whaling Museum gives you ample history plus the skeleton of 43-foot sperm whale. If the weather doesn't cooperate, head indoors to the Cisco Brewery, which also serves as a winery and distillery. Elsewhere, the scenic Brant Point makes for a nice stroll and obligatory lighthouse photo.
In July, families gather on the popular, crowd-favorite Jetties Beach for the big, boisterous Independence Day firework display, while mid-July brings the four-day Nantucket Comedy Festival. In August, sailors delight during Nantucket Race Week and music lovers convene at the 18th Annual Boston Pops, benefiting a local non-profit hospital.
Rest Your Head
Nantucket is filled with charming inns and cozy B&Bs. However, the iconic 67-room White Elephant and its new 20-room outpost, The White Elephant Village, are perfect options for solo travelers, couples, and families with children.
How to Get There: Thanks to JetBlue's summer schedule, there's a bevy of short, direct flights from Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. The independent, regional Cape Air makes short flights from airports like Hyannis.
Kate Donnelly is a freelance writer based in New York. She's the founder of the creative collaborative, From Your Desks. She's a Contributing Editor at Fathom and her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Forbes, The Huffington Post and Refinery 29. She travels for the food. Follow Kate on Twitter @k8bdonnelly.